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Egyptian Christian's Verdict Delayed another Month

Friday, August 24, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags: ,

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, May 9 (Compass) -- An Egyptian criminal court stalled again today on delivering a verdict against Shaiboub William Arsal, the Coptic Christian defendant in the highly-publicized El-Kosheh double-murder trial.

Just two days ago, the three-judge panel hearing Arsal's case before the Sohag Criminal Court pledged to release their verdict today. Instead, citing "procedural technicalities," the court postponed the decision another month, until June 5.

"There was no reason not to announce the verdict today," declared Mamduh Nakhla, one of the defense lawyers representing Arsal. "It does not need more time for deliberations, for thinking about it. This proves to me that the decision is purely political."

Nakhla said he did not think it was a coincidence that at this morning's hearing, the court announced that on June 4, the same panel of judges would begin hearing a second El-Kosheh case. A total of 136 suspects have been charged in a deadly rampage in the Upper Egypt village over New Year's weekend. Christians bore the brunt of the carnage, with 21 Copts killed and 104 of their homes and businesses looted and destroyed.

"They will start these hearings on June 4, and then of course the next day, it will be linked to the decision they hand down on June 5," Nakhla said.

Today's postponement was the second delay in announcing Arsal's verdict since formal hearings in the case concluded March 6. After the prosecution and defense delivered their final summations, the court ordered a two-month postponement in the case, until May 7.

According to Presiding Judge Safaa' al-Nufous Mohammed al-Khatib, this delay until May 7 was necessary to subpoena a set of army unit logbooks as court evidence. The logbooks, he said, would prove conclusively the whereabouts of the prosecution's alleged eyewitnesses to the murder.

The two witnesses, both young army conscripts posted at El-Minya, had been on leave visiting their Coptic families in El-Kosheh when picked up for interrogation in a police sweep to find the murderer.

Both testified that they had been tortured and forced to sign statements alleging that they had seen Arsal kill his cousin and another young Copt on the night of August 14, 1998. One said he was detained and abused for 18 days, and only signed the accusation when police threatened to rape his mother.

Their testimony had been flatly denied in court by El-Kosheh police officer Abou al-Fadl Thabet, himself accused by local Copts of involvement in police abuse of some 1,000 Copts detained during the episode. The policeman declared that the two conscripts were at their army post in El-Minya at the time they claimed they were being tortured in the El-Kosheh police station.

When the court convened two days ago, the logbooks bore out the conscripts' testimony. "They were in fact reported late in returning," an observer in the courtroom reported. "But in spite of that, no action was taken against them by the El-Minya authorities," he said, inferring that they must have produced a valid excuse to avoid army disciplinary action.

According to the observer, the presiding judge acknowledged the logbooks as "evidence that the conscripts were correct in their testimony, and that the El-Kosheh police chief was lying."

After the May 7 hearing, Nakhla told Compass he was "99 percent sure" that Arsal would be acquitted and released today. "Now, I am not feeling at ease about it," he admitted. "I am losing hope that this will be a decision revealing Shaiboub's innocence."

Arsal, 38, has been jailed without bail for 21 months in the case, which has been characterized by the Egyptian government as a "normal criminal incident" that has been "grossly exaggerated" by foreign press reports.

Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.

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Worthy Christian News » World News » Egyptian Christian's Verdict Delayed another Month